Coronavirus survivors fear long-term effects

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They may have survived a pandemic, but coronavirus survivors are still fighting.

The long-term damage of COVID-19 is only becoming clear to doctors – and to patients who are adjusting to life on the other side. Some, like six-time Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein, say the long-term effects of the disease that nearly killed him will be difficult to manage.

Burstein, who played in “Moulin Rouge: The Musical! On Broadway before the city closed, built solid lungs by singing and dancing on stage for 40 years.

But now, weeks after recovering from the coronavirus, the simple act of taking the garbage down two flights of stairs has completely exhausted him.

“Sometimes I have conversations and I can’t seem to get enough air, that’s the hard part,” said Burstein, 55, of The Post. ” It’s frustrating. It was a very slow recovery. For the most part, the symptoms are gone, but what remains is the damage to my lungs. “

Will they ever recover?

Tens of thousands of patients have already recovered from COVID-19. But the long-term effects of the disease are just beginning to appear. Burstein and many other patients continue to experience difficulty in breathing and other weeks after they start to feel better, for example.

“One of the biggest questions. . . East [whether] these patients will fully recover or there is chronic lung damage from this virus, “said Mina Rafik Makaryus, MD, pulmonologist at Northwell Health.

Makaryus says it is “overwhelming” to think of the number of patients who could have long-term lung problems.

“There are not enough pulmonologists in the community to manage this potential number of chronic lung injuries,” he adds.

Shaun Khubchandani
Shaun KhubchandaniShaun Khubchandani

There is little data on patients recovered so far – even the first Chinese diagnosis of COVID-19 is only 3 months old. But in a small study of 34 patients, the researchers found that COVID-19 affects metabolism and causes other “physiological changes”. Another early study in China found heart damage in 12% of patients who did not have breathing problems.

“There just isn’t enough data yet,” Makaryus told the Post. “You are particularly concerned about patients who have had to undergo life-saving treatment and what these effects will be in the long term.”

For Shaun Khubchandani, 30, recovering from the coronavirus was not easy. Weeks after her diagnosis, breathing still made her lungs feel “on fire.” Although the Soho resident says he is now “fully recovered” four weeks after his positive COVID-19 test, he cannot stop wondering if there will be any persistent lung damage.

“I had a long recovery,” Khubchandani told the Post. “For my age, I didn’t expect it at all. It was not a mild flu. “

He had symptoms for three consecutive weeks. But after they had calmed down and he felt better, “I felt like my lungs were on fire,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe deeply. This is where I started to worry. “

Recovery is a false alarm

Khubchandani also says that the virus is sneaky: he “cheated” on several occasions by making him believe that he was better, even after two weeks.

“I had a few false alarms, where I felt like I was fully recovered, and the next day, a fever returned,” he said.

“Towards the end, when I started having chest pain, I was worried that I might have damaged my lungs or that I would develop long-term problems, but I got a chest X-ray and it seems clear. “

Burstein, who has documented in detail his diagnosis and his hospital stay for “The Hollywood Reporter,” is aware of the “false alarms” COVID-19 brings.

“It would be like he was leaving, and then you would have these weird flares,” he told the Post. “One day it’s crazy sweating and headaches and then it’s a backache, when you go, you come back. It’s like nails sliding down your back, hanging on. “

Burstein and Khubchandani both used a spirometer to help improve their breathing, and Burstein says he also detonates a balloon “every hour” to strengthen his lungs on the advice of his doctor.

“Patients tell me that their breathing is generally improving,” says Makaryus. “But I have seen a number of patients who still need oxygen weeks after the diagnosis. “

Two steps forward, one step back

Brianna Cohen
Brianna CohenBrianna Cohen

“You also worry about the long-term psychiatric implications,” says Makaryus. “One of the things that complicates the task is that it is a lonely illness for patients and their families.”

Most survivors are forced to recover on their own for fear of spreading the disease further. And if they were attached to a ventilator, the experiment could cause some post-traumatic stress, doctors said.

Brianna Cohen, an actress who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, said the symptoms of the past two weeks were worse than the first.

“The symptoms kept changing,” said Cohen, 32, at the Post. “It was always two steps forward, one step back.”

More than five weeks after feeling sick for the first time and a month after the positive test, she still experiences persistent symptoms, such as chest pain – “My lungs feel like I’m on fire” – and anxiety.

“At one point, about three weeks after COVID [diagnosis], my blood pressure was through the roof and my heart rate was [extremely high], ” she says. “I had a chest x-ray and an EKG and everything was fine. They gave me a small amount of [anxiety] medicine and now my heart rate is fine. ”

Burstein says the painful experience made him count with his mortality in a profound way. After 8 p.m. in the emergency room and after his test returned positive for COVID-19, hospital staff told him that he was sending him to COVID-19.

“Right after I said that, they asked me if I was an organ donor,” says Burstein. “It was a lesson to think about. “

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